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Michael Bamberger
April 21, 1997
Larry Mize is content with a life built on faith, family and a major moment
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April 21, 1997

Saving Grace

Larry Mize is content with a life built on faith, family and a major moment

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Mize has hit his balls at Green Island. He is determined to get his dull years behind him. Earlier in the morning he talked to his teaching pro. Chuck Cook of Austin, over the telephone. Thinking that it will help Mize get some sting back into his strike, Cook wants him to stand more erect when addressing the ball. For now, Mize's standard nine-iron travels about 130 yards. When he stiffed his approach shot on the 18th hole on Sunday at the '87 Masters, the shot was close to 140 yards, uphill, played with a nine-iron.

Mize could live in the past, if that's what he wanted to do. His sports psychologist, Richard Coop, thinks Mize could benefit from watching his old tapes more often. He thinks Mize doesn't give himself enough credit for being as good as he is or for accomplishing what he has.

"I can't tell you what I was thinking," Mize is saying. He's in his house now, watching his historic shot on tape. It's past midnight; the boys and Mize's visiting father, a retired telephone executive who owns Baskin-Robbins in Augusta and Hilton Head, S.C., are sleeping, and he's sitting upright in a chair in his living room, where the shelves have little clusters of books about golf and God and green eggs and ham. He was trying to hit it close. He was trying to hole the shot. He was trying to get the ball on the face of the club. "There was only one shot to play," he says. The bump-and-run, with the club face square and the ball toward the back of his stance, the St. Andrews-Augusta National version of the shot.

Every day, practically, somebody will ask him about the shot. How many attempts do you think you would need before you could hole it again? ("Impossible to say, but I made it when I needed to," he says.) How far past would the ball have gone if it had missed the hole? ("Maybe eight feet. I've heard Norman say four.") Would you ever try the shot again, for fun? ("No. All it would do is interfere with the memory.") What Mize knows, and what the tape confirms, is that for a brief moment he did something perfectly, not perfect in any Godlike sense, just a perfectly executed golf shot, timed exquisitely. When the ball went down, Mize's arms went up and he did an exultant dance, and in the middle of it he sneaked a look straight up, a nod to the Big Fella. Then he hushed the crowd so Norman could attempt his 30-footer to tie, in the monastic silence for which the Masters is so justly famous.

At that moment God had been in Larry Mize's life, as active participant, for just short of a year. Mize had been a churchgoer all his life but he was reborn as a Christian, he says, on April 17, 1986, the day his first child, David, was born. There was no light, Mize says, just the realization that he had to "trust Christ for my salvation." Right then Mize stopped his cheatin' and boozin', his gamblin' and lyin'. Kidding, kidding. Anybody who has known Mize for a while knows that he has never been a great sinner. He did, however, excise "cuss words" from his vocabulary. Within a year of David's birth, Bonnie Mize, had her spiritual rebirth too. If you ask Bonnie and Larry separately about their religious renewals, they use the same precise words: "Before, I knew God intellectually; now I love Him with my heart."

So Mize has God, a loving family, money, playing privileges at Augusta National (which he has used exactly twice in a decade). What more is there to want?

When the Tour left California for Florida, Mize went home to Columbus. He didn't play Doral. He didn't play Honda. Finally, he got the clubs out for the Bay Hill Invitational. The Bay Hill Club is a bear, nearly 7,200 yards long. The 9th is a par-4 of 460 yards. In the first round, with the course soft and still, Tiger Woods played the hole with a driver and a nine-iron. A short while later Mize played the hole with a driver and a three-wood. That's called hard work.

The night before the tournament, Mize attended the weekly Tour Bible study meeting, held at the home of Sue and Brad Bryant, who live near Bay Hill. Steve Jones attended. So did Jim Gallagher Jr., Bernhard Langer, Scott Simpson and two dozen others, most of them nonplayers, eating hamburgers and pouring Cherry Kool-Aid from a plastic container. Larry Moody, the pastor who leads the Tour's study, was talking about Charles Blondin, the Great Blondin, who, in the century before this one, would walk across Niagara Falls on a tightrope while pushing a wheelbarrow. "And all the while," Moody said, "his eyes would be fixed on a silver star. And that's what the Lord, Jesus Christ, is for you, that silver star." As Mize ingested these words, his eyes widened, and he nodded his head and drew a breath of air. His chest heaved ever so slightly.

Three and a half days later Mize wakes up in his room at the Residence Inn in Orlando. It's Sunday morning, and he's 10 shots out of the lead at Bay Hill. His wife and boys are in Columbus, getting ready for Sunday school at First Baptist. Mize thinks of his God, his wife, his children, his purpose. "That silver star—for me, in golf—is the flagstick," he says. "It's what Harvey Penick used to say: 'Take dead aim.' " A series of 18 flagsticks, stood up to be knocked down. Mize knows about dead aim. He took it once, a decade ago, very memorably. He would like to do it again. "I've got to play my hardest," he says. "I've got to show my kids a work ethic. When I'm home, I'm home. When I'm out here, I've got to get everything I can out of my golf. That's what I'm here for."

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